Gone is the Light

Several years ago I was asked by a pastor to come and take the whole of the Good Friday service at his church. I was a bit surprised at the invitation, because it was a rather large congregation, and fairly upbeat. I happily accepted the invitation, and took it as an honour that I would be entrusted to lead the congregation into such a difficult and delicate observance.

As I understand it, generally speaking, the season of Advent can be described as an ascent to light, whereas the season of Lent can be described as a descent into darkness. Good Friday ironically named, is the terrible and  disorienting day when the ‘treachery of men’ and the ‘blackest ingratitude’ seem to all but swallow whole our hopes for a brighter morning.  It is a day when we liturgically re-harrow the reality of our losses, deepest disappointments and sinful complicity in all that is unholy and unhealthy.

Good Friday is also the day when, as our faith teaches, Christ collected all the world’s sorrow and sin, and bore them to the grave.

It is about death. Dead death. This is something that we feel in our bones, because no matter how lavishly we live in order to mask and perfume its stench, we know death is inescapable and we fear that it may yet be, quite possibly, the last word on our lives.

Now… I know Easter Sunday is coming, as does anyone familiar with the story. But this day, Good Friday, is the day we set aside to feel the agonizing and desperate loss that preceeds resurrection; if nothing else, to prayerfully and compassionately commiserate in solidarity with those who have no such hope.

In selecting songs for my contribution,  I took the day seriously, and began with lighthearted songs and stories, then gradually descended toward those sorts of stories and songs that reveal, and give voice to,  the darkness we know in our experience.  And then I ended there… wanting to leave folks in that place: to wait, and to feel, and to pray, until the light of Easter would dawn two days later.

However, the pastor (a very fine fellow btw) was uncomfortable with me ending there. He jumped to the stage and quickly encouraged the audience into an ovation, asking for one more song. As I took to the stage he turned to me and whispered, “pick it up a bit…”.   So in childish protest, I ended with Paul Simon’s Feeling Groovy. No one but my wide-eyed wife seemed to know what I had just done.  Everyone else seemed visibly relieved to be returned to a cheerful place.

It was wrong of me to do what I did. I did it from an uncharitable spirit, and I felt bad about it for the rest of the weekend – and even still. But it did highlight for me just how uncomfortable we are with this story of a Saviour who first says “follow me” then dies dead to absorb and dissipate the darkness that beleaguers us all. The first century folks, who experienced the story in real time, didn’t have the luxury of knowing where it was going. Neither do so many today. This, of all days, is a day to come alongside the desperate who can’t quite imagine a resurrection in either the temporal or the eternal realm. It is a day to pray for those who can’t pray for themselves. And it is a day for fearless moral inventory, acknowledging truthfully our complicity in the very things that make for our own and other’s sorrows.   And this place is a place where we must wait patiently, unhurriedly. Because after all, the best chance we have to witness a resurrection… is from a graveyard.

 afternote: Since I posted this, I’ve recieved a couple of friendly, but chiding emails suggesting it is unfair of me to impose only one function on this particular day – that there may well be several legitimate ways of observing it. Certinly.  And I’m sorry for suggesting otherwise.  But I do think that given the death-denying culture we live in, it is probaby ok if the church sits in the dark from time to time, compassionately, with those who know little else. When we rush too quickly from Good Friday to Easter, we don’t let the tradition do it’s good work.  Anyway – certainly, no disrespect was meant for the pastor in the above story, who is much beloved, and for good reason.

Gone is the Light  
Music and lyric by Gord Johnson
appears on Steve Bell’s Devotion album (see below)

Into the darkness we must go
Gone, gone is the light
Into the darkness we must go
Gone, gone is the light

Jesus remember me
When you enter your Kingdom
Jesus remember me
When your kingdom comes

Father forgive them
They know not what they do
Father forgive them
They know not what they do

Into the darkness we must go
Gone, gone is the light
Into the darkness we must go
Gone gone is the light


Album: Devotion

Gone is the Light can be found on Steve Bell’s Devotion CD, which can be previewed and purchased HERE…


18 thoughts on “Gone is the Light

  1. One of the most beautiful and nuanced productions in all your works – and that’s saying something!

    For a fresh and insightful examination as to why most of us strive so hard most of the time, to avoid the “dark,” I recommend Brenée Brown’s latest book, Daring Greatly. This book and her two previous books, regarding our struggles with shame and fear of vulnerability, are inspired, and inspiring.

  2. Steve,
    thank you for your story. It reminds me of how diverse our experience withing all parts of our one holy and apostolic church. Our more liturgically inclined always end the Good Friday service the way you described your approach. The discomfort felt by the congregation and your pastor friend indicate to me that they do not really understand this day. A bit disconcerting in a pastor.

    Thank you also for the song. Fits the day.

    In Jesus,

  3. Thank you for your perspective…..I have planned the Good Friday services for our church for the last 10 years. It is one of those few days when we go to the dark places. We ask folks to enter in silence, and leave in silence. The decor is sombre, the music reflective, and spaces are left for silence. None of the songs on Good Friday reference the resurrection. People are uncomfortable, and I am glad that it makes them so….we should be uncomfortable when we reflect on the fact that our sin is the reason Good Friday exists.

    How can we truly celebrate a resurrection, and all that it means to our faith and life, if we don’t first mourn a death.

  4. Steve, you have blessed me beyond words. Our family attends the largest church in Calgary and love it. However, many years ago I attended a Holy Thursday service at a near by Anglican church and realized the TRUE despair of ‘Good Friday” and we now attend the Good Friday service at that Anglican church. It is sad, dark, emotionally heavy service which I believe is honouring to the One for whom the day is named. I love your story and this song. Many thanks!

  5. I understand your closing the way you did, as well as the frustration you felt. You have shared about the reluctance of believers to acknowledge the reality of the lament…to not want to give voice to the pain. The pain of “Good Friday” is real, and the tendancy to “clean it up” a bit to make it more palatable is consistent with the desire to “worship” in comfort and contentment, looking away from the pain of taking up our cross and following in obedience at any cost.

  6. Thank you for this excellent reflection Steve. It’s just what I needed to hear this morning, as I’m on my way to lead the music for our Good Friday service at our Anglican Church this morning, and I’m ending with the same song. Peace.

  7. I’ve heard Peter Rollins say, while dealing with pain, perhaps it is more effective to take the approach of a singer-songwriter – feeling the emotion and working through the darkness – rather than the approach of escape. (Such as watching a movie to be entertained for a short while, to divert from the pain.)
    My heart tells me that the black cloud of Good Friday is worth feeling and working through.
    Thank you Steve.

    From Len Hjarmilson’s forthcoming book: “The challenge we face as followers of the Incarnate One, is to move from the posture of a tourist to the posture of a pilgrim. Tourists are escaping life; pilgrims are embracing it…” -SB

  8. My mom just passed away after a 3yr battle with cancer. As we watched and prayed with her in hospice, she turned to me and asked, “how does this work”. I said I didn’t know, but I knew we could trust Jesus to take her by the hand when it was time, just like I was holding her hand now. We then read many verses about how the work was finished when Jesus died on the cross – mom could never have been good enough, but with Jesus sacrifice and her trust in Him, she could see Him at the right hand of the Father. This we know is true, and we can trust what Jesus did on that dark day. “It is finished”.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and this song.

  9. Read this with much interest.
    Yes, must commiserate/ pray for the ones
    not having such HOPE.
    [Along with praying for selves, that we retain such, —
    when it seems there’s somewhat of
    “darkness”..that causes some obscuring of
    our “Vision”.

  10. Greetings Steve Today on Good Friday morning 200 people in Brampton gathered outside near the steps of Brampton City Hall (near Christ Church where you had a concert last May) to follow a journey of the Cross reflecting on the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in our community and to be a sign of faith to the greater community..We walked throughout the downtown area at 13 stations to be united with Jesus ( example we stood in the parking lot of the liquor store reflecting on addiction and alcoholism – we pray outside the bus terminal for those suffering loneliness – broken relationship – depression) At each station we also entered into the darkness & hopelessness in the moments of our lives..At the 14 station we shared the glimmer of hope and prayrd for the courage to help our suffering brothers & sisters among us and in our global world . Thank you Steve for your inspirations to journey with the Cross. Happy Easter

  11. Thanks for taking the time to send these words and songs to us Steve. Re “picking it up a bit” touched my “funnybone” as we call it. Personally, I don’t think you had anywhere else to go but to “Feelin’ Groovy”! I believe that God understood your dilemna and the pastor’s. Truly, how can one “pick it up a bit” when contemplating the agony of the cross and everything it means. Could ramble on ’til tomorrow, blessed Easter morning – thank you that you said/say “Yes!!!!” Lord. My heart is full! Marilyn Jarvis

  12. Thank you Steve. We about to embark on the part of the journey that gives us hope, ‘He is risen’ day. But my spirit isn’t there yet and I wasn’t sure why. Reading your post and listening to your song gave me an understanding that my heart had but my head had not yet reasoned out. Thank you for putting in perspective the darkness and Friday and for helping me understand this is something we should not hurry through. Blessings to you and the family.

  13. Some people call it the “ups and downs” of life, the times when we all experience our own periods of light and darkness. And it is during those times that each of us can discover what it is that turns our world dark and what we can do to bring back the light. And when we find out what works best for ourselves, we practise it. Over and over. And like walking through the storm, we put our head down, push forward and try our best to remain standing, defiant not to get knocked down. For me, it is taking my mind away from thoughts of helpless desolation, Even on Good Friday. Each and every day, I consume my thoughts with positive images. And within a solemn and respectful countenance for the sadness that Good Friday evokes, I work diligently, with meagre sustenance, on all the food I will share with those near and dear to me, on the day in which we will rejoice. In order to give me strength to face what I must, I choose not to dwell in the darkness. Instead, I open all the windows to let in the light.

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